Think added salt in your child’s diet doesn’t matter? Think again.
Pizza, chips, lunchmeat, cheese, and crackers — what do all these American favorites have in common? You got it. They contain more than adequate amounts of the ionic compound NaCl (sodium chloride), more commonly known as salt (or sodium).
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
We all need a small amount of sodium every day to keep our bodies functioning optimally. In fact, we need just 180 – 500 mg/day . A few salt crystals just about covers it. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg/day as the Adequate Intake level for most Americans, and advises that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg/day. This is equal to approximately one teaspoon of salt and is considered the Tolerable Upper Intake.
HOW MUCH DO WE CONSUME?
What you may already know is adult Americans generally consume too much sodium — upwards of 3,500 mg per day. Over time, this can increase our blood pressure to unsafe levels, putting us at risk for heart disease and stroke. What you may not realize, or consider a big deal, is that our kids consume too much sodium too.
Yes, it’s true, and a recent article published in the journal, Pediatrics (September 2012) explained the cold hard facts. Looking at the diets and blood pressures of over 6,000 children ages 8 – 18 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2003 – 2008, researchers learned that 37% of those children were overweight, and that they children consumed an average of 3,387 mg/day of sodium. That’s roughly the same amount of sodium consumed by U.S. adults. Researchers also found that for children at a healthy weight, the risk of developing high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure increased 6% for every 1,000 mg of sodium consumed per day. For overweight kids, the risk increased by a troubling 74%.
DIAL IT BACK
We Americans love our salty foods, and we’ve grown accustomed to them, given our hankering for processed foods and dining out. But here’s the deal: it’s in our best interest, and the best interest of our kids, to cut back to no more than 2,300 mg /day (about 1 teaspoon). I’m not suggesting completely cutting out familiar favorites like pizza. Frankly, I’m not sure what life would be like in my family’s house without pizza! What I am suggesting is that items such as these not be mainstays in our families’ weekly food plans.
So here are some more suggestions for cutting back on salt and sodium, offered by ChooseMyPlate.gov:
- Choose fresh foods more often. Foods from the earth are naturally lower in sodium. Processed foods such as lunch meats, canned soups, ravioli, and cheesy items are filled with sodium. Choose these less often, and in smaller portions. Instead, choose fresh beef, poultry, pork and seafood, and include fruits and vegetables at each meal.
- Eat at home more often. Restaurant foods taste good for several reasons, two of which are that they’re generally high in sodium and high in fat. Eat at home, and take more control of your choices.
- Read food labels! When purchasing canned, packed, or frozen items, be sure to look for those labeled “low sodium” or “no salt added.”
- Skip the salt. This is an obvious one, and also a challenge to change. Use herbs, spices, garlic, vinegars, and lemon juice to add flavoring. Not salt.
- Watch the condiments. Soy sauce, ketchup, olives, pickles, salad dressings, and Ranch dip are high in sodium. Choose lower sodium varieties, and use just a sprinkling of flavor packets instead of the entire thing.
As your family gradually cuts back on sodium, your taste for salt will lessen. And, as an added bonus, the natural flavors of foods will shine through!
Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.